Telsa and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk told a bipartisan gathering of US governors on Saturday (16 July) that artificial intelligence must be properly regulated, describing it as a "fundamental risk to the existence of civilisation. Speaking at the National Governors Association summer meeting in Rhone Island, Musk discussed the future of driverless cars and space travel, the strides made so far in AI research and development and the immediate need to regulate the AI sector.

"I have exposure to the very most cutting edge AI, and I think people should be really concerned about it," Musk said.

Musk, who has long voiced serious concerns about the risks and dangers that come with AI, said he believes the government needs to proactively address and regulate AI development.

"Until people see robots going down the street killing people, they don't know how to react because it seems so ethereal," Musk said. "AI is a rare case where I think we need to be proactive in regulation instead of reactive. Because I think by the time we are reactive in AI regulation, it's too late.

"Normally the way regulations are set up is a while bunch of bad things happen, there's a public outcry, and after many years a regulatory agency is set up to regulate that industry. It takes forever. That, in the past, has been bad but not something which represented a fundamental risk to the existence of civilisation."

Musk said AI poses as a "fundamental risk to the existence of human civilisation, in a way that car accidents, airplane crashes, faulty drugs or bad food were not".

"They were harmful to certain individuals in society, but were not harmful to society as a whole," he said. "AI is a fundamental, existential risk to human civilisation and I don't think people fully appreciate that."

"I'm against overregulation for sure," Musk added. "But man, I think we've got to get on that with AI, pronto."

Elon Musk
Elon Musk warned US governors that they need to act quickly in terms of regulating artificial intelligence Max Whittaker/Getty Images

In December 2015, Musk launched the non-profit OpenAI to "build safe AI" that aims to "advance digital intelligence in the way that is most likely to benefit humanity as a whole, unconstrained by a need to generate financial return".

As major tech companies continue to competitively pursue and develop advanced AI in an attempt to avoid falling behind, Musk says: "That's where you need the regulators to come in and say, hey guys, you all need to just pause and make sure this is safe."

Without proper regulations set in place, Musk warns that industries will become completely autonomous as AI becomes faster and more efficient and eventually lead to job loss, social destablisation and national safety risks.

"When I say everything, the robots will do everything, bar nothing," he said. "The first order of business would be to try to learn as much as possible, to understand the nature of the issues, to look closely at the progress that is being made and the remarkable achievements of artificial intelligence."

The tech billionaire outlined some of the hypothetical situations in which AI could prove to be a threat.

"[They] could start a war by doing fake news and spoofing email accounts and fake press releases, and just by manipulating information. The pen is mightier than the sword," Musk said. "Once there is awareness, people will be extremely afraid, as they should be."